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The History of Grand Junction

Updated: Jun 26

Like Colorado Springs, Grand Junction’s history is deeply intertwined with its natural Rocky Mountain beauty. With a population of nearly 65,000, it is the largest city on Colorado’s Western Slope, the center of Colorado’s wine country, and a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. While the city is frequently referred to as “River City”, the name Grand Junction comes from the city’s location at the junction of two rivers – the Colorado (formerly the Grand) and the Gunnison.

While Europeans first settled in the region in the 1880s, Grand Junction’s history dates back thousands of years to the Ute and Fremont Indian tribes. Rock art and ancient petroglyphs can still be found in several areas, including the McDonald Creek and the Rough Canyon Petroglyphs in the Bangs Canyon Management area.

Beyond farming, Grand Junction is home to “The National Park You’ve Never Heard of” – Colorado National Monument. In 1906, John Otto, an eccentric miner, discovered the vast red rock canyons and stone monoliths. Many Grand Junction residents considered the area inaccessible, but Otto built miles of trails by himself to allow more people to visit the places he loved in the canyons. He was known as the “Hermit of the Canyons” and the “Trail Builder,” often taking great risks creating climbing routes and cutting steps into vertical walls. For years, he lived in the canyons and launched a one-man campaign writing hundreds of letters to Congress urging that his “backyard” be designated as a national park. He wrote, “I came here last year an found these canyons, and they felt like the heart of the world to me.”

In 1911, Otto succeeded and President Howard Taft designated an area of the canyons as a national monument. Otto commemorated the victory on July 4, 1911 by scaling the 450-foot rock tower of Independence Monument and placed an American flag at the top. Climbers still continue that tradition in Otto’s memory every 4th of July.

Today, Colorado National Monument is a paradise for outdoor adventurers with more than 20,000 acres of canyonlands, the scenic 23-mile Rim Rock Drive with breathtaking panoramic views, and ample mountain biking trails.

Tourism is expanding the city’s economy, with visitor spending now contributing to a third of the city’s sales tax revenue. Grand Junction has been featured in many prominent travel publications, including Conde Nast Traveler. Hotel occupancy now exceeds pre-pandemic levels and is nearly 30% higher than overall US hotel occupancy. The Hotel Maverick, a boutique hotel that describes itself as “equal parts upscale and down-to-earth” opened in 2018 and the area continues to see growth in new restaurants, wineries, breweries, and distilleries. After a year and half of pandemic restrictions, Grand Junction is successfully positioning itself as the perfect location to enjoy all types of activities from arts and live music to rooftop dinners and outdoor adventures.

Increased tourism and growing national attention bring increased opportunities for real estate development, both residential and commercial. Grand Junction’s population increased 10% in the most recent census and job growth is forecasted to be 41.8% over the next ten years, significantly higher than the projected 33.5% average for the US. Those trends are reflected in increasing home prices as the median list price in July of 2021 was $325K, up 12.5% from the previous year. Yet, Grand Junction still has an overall cost of living score of 95.9, significantly lower than Colorado’s overall score of 121.1.

A bustling downtown with unique local businesses, a growing art and “foodie” scene, award-winning wineries, and of course, unlimited opportunities for outdoor adventure will continue to make Grand Junction a great place to live, visit, and invest in.

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